The Disinfecting/Delousing Process
In the midst of all this, Mexican migrants and immigrants were being deloused in the newly established fumigation building under the Santa Fe Bridge before crossing into El Paso. Men and women were separated and were forced to strip naked in front of a Customs inspector. Their clothes were loaded into bundles and put into a steam-chamber. Other articles that may be damaged by steam were placed into a different laundry opening and treated with cyanogen, if necessary (Pierce, 1917, p.427). Valuable items were placed in a cotton bag with a “numbered brass check attached,” and owners of items would wear a matching number around their neck to claim their belongings before they left (Pierce, 1917, p.427).
Custom inspectors would check all parts of the body containing hair such as, head, genital area, armpits, and chest. If lice was discovered, those individuals would be escorted to a different room, shaved with “No. 00 clippers,” and doused with a chemical mixture of vinegar and kerosene. Women’s’ scalp hair would not be shaven, only washed with the mixture and rinsed with soap and water (Pierce, 1917, p.427). Their whole bodies would then be sprayed with a liquid soap which contained kerosene oil, warm water, and soap. The steaming and drying process of clothing would take about 25 to 35 minutes. Once the clothes were ready, all individuals were given a vaccination and a certificate which stated the date they were “deloused, bathed, vaccinated, clothing and baggage disinfected” (as cited in Pierce, 1917, p.428). For “2nd class” Juárez citizens the inspection process was not over. They underwent mental examinations to check for possible mental/physical abnormalities. This was designed to align with restricting “idiots, aliens who cannot read, and physical defectives,” from entering the U.S. (Romo, 2005, pp.220 & 237).
C.C. Pierce, 1917 Senior Surgeon of the United Stated Public Health Service, saw the “quarantine restriction at border ports” as a “noticeable improvement in the appearance of local passengers from neighboring Mexican towns” (1917, p.429).
Accounts of Disinfecting Process